HC Deb 02 February 1837 vol 36 cc89-90
Mr. Maclean

wished to know from the noble Lord opposite, (Lord John Russell) whether it was the intention of the Government to propose any alteration in the criminal law during the present Session? The commission had already cost the country 10,393l., and only two reports had as yet proceeded from it.

Lord John Russell

, in reply to the question put by the hon. Gentleman, begged to state, that in the Report made by the Commissioners, at the close of the last Session of Parliament, many alterations of the criminal law were suggested, and more especially with respect to the punishment of death. As the Commissioners recommended that that awful punishment should be taken away from many offences that were now capital, he thought it was not a subject that ought to be left long in debate or dispute, and therefore that no step should be taken with respect to it until the whole of the criminal law could be altered in the manner proposed by the Commissioners. At the same time, he thought that the subject was one that ought to occupy the attention of the Government, and that the Government, if it should be in their power to frame any measure upon it, should lose no time in calling the attention of the Legislature to it. With that feeling, soon after the close of the last Session, he felt it his duty to refer to the reports that had been made upon the subject; and he wrote to the Commissioners, requesting them to furnish him with the heads of a measure on the criminal law, by which the punishment of death might be taken away from those offences which, in their opinion, should no longer remain capital. The Commissioners met at the end of October, to consider of his letter, and he believed it was discussed and considered by them at great length, and with great attention. Since that time he had been in frequent communication upon the subject with the Lord Chancellor and Lord Denman, the chief justice of the Court of King's Bench, and, as the result of his labours and inquiries, he hoped, in a few days, to be able to give notice of a number of Bills which he intended to bring forward, and which would make, as he conceived, very great ameliorations in the criminal law. As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's observations, namely, the cost of the Commission, he had only a few words to say. He found when he came into office that a report had been presented by the Commissioners, and that it had fallen to the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Cambridge, who preceded him in his office of Home Secretary, to recommend to the Treasury a sum to be given to the Commissioners for their report. A certain sum was accordingly appointed by the right hon. Gentleman and when the next report came before him he saw no reason to alter the precedent established by his predecessor, and he accordingly recommended the Treasury to pay the Commissioners exactly the same sum as had been assigned to them by that right hon. Gentleman. He had no doubt but that this Commission, like many others, might be found, in some respects, to be expensive; but, without entering into the merit of other Commissions, he would say of this, that no subject could be more important for the Legislature of a country to consider, than the procuring good and efficient criminal laws; and he would say likewise, with great respect to those hon. Gentlemen who had undertaken to reform particular parts of the criminal law, that it would be better that the Legislature should come to the consideration of the subject, having before them the mature and deliberate opinions of professional men, who, acting as Commissioners, had conducted a careful inquiry into the whole of the matter, rather than that measures should be brought forward of individual Members dealing only with one particular class of offences, mitigating the punishment of death as regarded that class of offences, and leaving others, perhaps of a slighter character, still liable to that awful punishment. These were all the observations that he felt it in his power at that moment to make upon the subject, and he trusted that the hon. Gentleman would feel satisfied with them.

Mr. Maclean

explained, that it was his intention not to object to the expense of the Commission, but to call the noble Lord's attention to the fact, that nothing had yet resulted from the labours of the Commission.

Subject dropped.